Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened
Port Orford Cedar (POC) is native to a limited area along the Pacific Coast from Coos Bay, Oregon, to the mouth of the Mad River near Arcata, California, USA. Its range extends from the coast to about 50 miles inland. There is also a small disjunct population in the Scott Mountains of California. This species occurs in the greatest abundance within about 64 km of the Pacific coast. Further inland, its distribution is patchy, and it is mostly limited to sites with sufficient soil moisture. The expect this taxon to be down listed to Least Concern within the next 10 years provided that current conservation actions are successful and maintained. Until then, it is assessed as Near Threatened on the basis that its recent decline almost meets the criterion B2ab(iii) for listing as threatened.
Although POC has a narrow geographic range, it occupies many different environments. The species is found at elevations from sea level to 1950 meters, in glacial basins, along streams, on terraces, and on mountain side-slopes from lower to upper one-third slope positions. POC shows adaptability to a wide range of summer evapotranspiration stress, from very high humidity along the coast to very low summer humidity inland. Soils where POC is found are derived from many parent materials, including sandstone, schist, phyllite, granite, diorite, gabbro, serpentine, peridotite, and volcanics. At lower elevations it is often found on ultramafic soil types.
Much of the range of POC usually has wet winters, dry summers, relatively uniform temperatures, high relative humidity, and frequent summer fog. Away from the coastal influences, in the south and east portion of its range, rainfall, relative humidity, and summer fog are decreased, while the temperature fluctuations in both the summer and winter are greater (USDA-FS 1965). Moisture regime strongly influences plant community development within the range of POC. To most populations of POC, a consistent abundance of water seems a critical necessity (Zobel et al. 1985). Where douglas fir is present it out-competes POC for water. Only in the northern part of the range does the ratio of available water to evapotranspiration compensate for this competition (Zobel et al. 1985). POC may out-compete Douglas fir in areas with low macronutrients, or cold or saturated soils.
International trade in the timber has previously put enormous pressure on the remaining old growth stands. The spread of the introduced pathogen Phytophthora lateralis continues and limits successful regeneration in many areas, especially those accessible by road.
The current range of POC falls within the traditional territories of numerous American Indian Tribes along the west coast of North America. Included is the 5,400-acre forest of the Coquille Indian Tribe in west-central Oregon which is managed according to many of the Standards and Guidelines of adjacent Federal land. POC continues to play a significant role in the cultural and religious life of many Tribes living within the POC range from west-central Oregon south through northwest California. Specific information concerning where, how, what time of year, and by whom POC is harvested and used is restricted from distribution.
Cedars of all types are considered the most used wood by native cultures of the Pacific Northwest. Despite declining availability, the cultural importance of POC remains high given its physical and structural characteristics, distinctive appearance, and aroma. The smells of POC also enhance the meaning of cultural rituals. Known for its durability, POC has straight grain properties allowing it to be split evenly. POC is sought as a source of planks for building traditional structures and for arrows or lances that support bone or stone projectile points. However, shortages and diminishing accessibility to mature trees sometimes relegates POC to parts of a plank house or sweat lodge, such as benches or sidewalls. This is also true for construction of canoes.
POC has other traditional uses. Boughs are used as brooms, and the bark and roots are peeled and finely shredded for use in making traditional clothing, basketry, nets, twine, mats, and other items. Limbs may be twisted into rope.
Unlike Western red cedar and Incense cedar, POC has limited medicinal value due to its highly toxic character as a diuretic. Similarly, POC is less effective than Incense Cedar for preserving and storing perishable materials such as feathers, hides, and other materials. POC typically does not have the cedar-closet aroma of other cedars.
The declining availability of healthy, mature POC trees through the 20th century has increased the importance of remaining POC stands to Tribes. Although the region has experienced an economic and cultural rejuvenation by the Tribes, a declining availability of POC due to several factors, including past timber cutting, disease, endangered species protection, fish protection, and land use allocations, hinders Tribal initiatives to restore and revive cultural traditions.
Agencies issue permits for collection of special forest products including non-POC boughs, beargrass, and cones, but seldom issue permits for POC product collections. Therefore, quantitative data concerning modern-day cultural uses of POC is highly variable among the Tribes and generally not readily available outside Tribal communities. In general, however, use of POC is at modest levels.
Maintenance of POC stands on Federal lands as a culturally-important species is important to Tribes and fulfills Federal policies and goals for accommodating traditional Tribal uses. These uses are also consistent with the “American Indian Religious Act,” and other statutes that highlight the importance of traditional cultural uses of plants on Federal lands. There are no effects to the exercise of those rights, because there are no off-reservation treaty reserved rights within POC range.
POC shares the same decay-resistant properties as other cedars, such as Western red cedar and Incense cedar, and is used for posts, rails, and shakes. Western red cedar and Incense Cedar are more sought after because they have a wider range and are more easily accessible.
POC is in greatest demand for boughs during Christmas and to a lesser degree, for year-long floral arrangements. Boughs have a graceful, flat, beaded-lace appearance that makes them ideal for tying continuous strands to a wire backing for garlands or for layering into Christmas wreaths. The foliage also combines beauty with durability and needle retention that allows it to be preserved with glycerin mixtures for long-lasting floral displays.